Cover image for Family planning
Family planning
Lewin, Michael Z.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur, 1999.
Physical Description:
264 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"Thomas Dunne books."
Geographic Term:
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Three generations of the Lunghi family live and work together , and when they take on a new case right before Christmas, it proves quite a handful. Especially when everyone seems to be a bit preoccupied: Mama wants to open a cafe; nerdy David is head over heels for a Dirty girl; Marie is meeting strange men in bars; Gina and Angela are out to help a glamorous client--and that's just the beginning.

Author Notes

Author Michael Z. Lewin was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1942. He studied chemistry and physics at Harvard University and taught high school science for three years before becoming a full-time writer in 1969. He is the author of the Albert Samson series and the Leroy Powder series. He currently lives in Bath, England.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Mordantly funny, beguiling in the extreme, this debut novel in Lewin's new series starring the Lungi Detective Agency sketches the outline of three generations of Italian Brits who live and work together in Bath, fueled by fabulous home-cooked and takeout meals and endless pots of tea. The outline is filled in by a delicious series of set pieces mostly having to do with the more quotidian kind of family mystery rather than the murder that ostensibly occupies the plot: there's teenage David practicing his kissing technique on his own knuckles; there's Maria, David's sister, involved in a teen tangle of parental deception. Through it all, the Old Man and Mama, patriarch and matriarch, carry on like folks who have been married forever and who, while not quite having lost it, aren't at all sure where they put it down. Lewin's first in what will surely be a series about this madcap but fondly recognizable detecting family will appeal to many of the same readers of Donna Leon's similar if more elegantly drawn Venetian mysteries. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Publisher's Weekly Review

Of all the matters that concern members of the Lunghi Family of Bath, England, in their latest outing, crime is the least of them. That eclecticism adds charm to this novel, but it also creates a problem: the Lunghis (Family Business, etc.) are private detectives, and this is at least nominally a mystery. While it's pleasant to learn that daughter Rosetta is studying line-dancing, and that Mama is so worried about her son Salvatore's "self-steam" ("Everywhere you hear about self-steam these days, like on programs with audiences that should not be pooh-poohed just because they're Americans") that she's thinking of going against her husband's wishes and investing in a restaurant where Sal can exhibit his paintings, these revelations don't generate suspense. True, son Angelo and his wife, Gina, are looking into the case of a woman who's being threatened by numerical messages on her pager, and the Old ManÄthe founder of the agency and the shrewd businessman who put together the small real-estate empire that keeps the family solventÄhas been asked to help prove that a client didn't murder his uncle ten years ago. And teenager Marie, the daughter of Gina and Angelo, does seem to have gotten in over her head in a scheme to earn some extra money for Christmas. As in real life, work and personal interests interact and clash, with results both surprising and predictable. The wonderful Regency city of Bath is treated as an ordinary, nondescript backdrop: another example of Lewin's sometimes regrettable refusal to hype anything for effect. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The Lunghi Family Detective Agency (Family Business) in Bath, England, takes on an important murder case just before Christmas, but family members seem too preoccupied to pay it much attention. A sometimes humorous ramble with various Lunghis. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One A ngelo was clearing the breakfast dishes when he heard the Old Man on his way down the stairs from the flat above. He turned to the kettle and filled it with water.     The Old Man rarely agreed to tea that he knew was being made specially for him. But chances were the Old Man wouldn't notice what his son was doing. Chances were he would come in and talk about what was on his mind, and by then the tea would be ready to pour. But even if the Old Man did notice, Angelo would say, "I was making it for myself."     The pot was still warm so Angelo spooned in loose tea leaves. Then he turned to the door. But what he heard was the Old Man cross the landing and begin to descend the stairs to the street. No hello, no tea, no nothing.     "Papa?" Angelo called. "Papa?"     The footsteps on the stairs continued, unchecked.     Angelo heard his father arrive at the bottom, open the door, step out, and close the door behind him.     The water in the kettle came to a boil. Angelo ignored it. No law said that his father couldn't go out without stopping for a morning chat and a cuppa. There was not even a law that said that the Old Man had to respond when spoken to. But unresponsiveness was, to put it mildly, not his father's style. Puzzling. Gina stood at the window overlooking Walcot Street when Angelo arrived in the office. She was watering the plants.     "The post is on your desk," she said. "The only message on the machine that might qualify as important was from Tarquin at Oglivy and Walls. He says the check is in the post."     Gina expected Angelo to comment on the message or react to hearing the name "Tarquin" again. Instead Angelo asked, "What's up with Papa?"     "Up?"     "Papa came down the stairs, didn't even open the door to say he wasn't coming in. Then I called to him and he didn't answer."     "Oh," Gina said. Such a thing was unusual. Yet there might be any of a number of explanations. Mightn't there?     "I haven't done anything to get up his nose, have I?" Angelo asked.     "Not that I know of, but the week is young."     "Mmmm."     It seemed that Angelo wasn't feeling playful. But Papa's not stopping wasn't that big a deal, surely. "Maybe he was just preoccupied."     "With what? And where would he be going at this time in the morning?"     Gina shrugged.     "He isn't going deaf, is he?" Angelo asked.     "What?"     "Deaf."     "What?"     "All right, all right, all right."     "He hasn't seemed harder of hearing than usual," Gina said. "Except when he doesn't like what he's hearing."     "Do you think I should ask Mama?"     "Not at this point. Unless you're so worried that you won't be able to concentrate on work."     "Work? Oh," Angelo said. "So, what we got?"     "Nothing urgent, but there are a lot of things that will become urgent if they don't get done. And you've got the frock shop at noon."     "Ah."     "Make sure you get the right size," Gina said.     "What?"     "At the frock shop. Make sure to buy a dress that fits," Gina said slowly. "Honestly!" Whether the Old Man was preoccupied or not, his son certainly was. Rosetta, Angelo's sister, appeared in the office at a quarter to one. She didn't start work until two--she did half days dealing with the detective agency's finances as well as other family business matters. The latter included everything to do with the tenants who rented the street-level shops below the Lunghi Detective Agency and the family flats. The Old Man's shrewd purchase long ago of adjoining buildings meant there was room for seven Lunghis in three generations to live alongside the agency. The only member of the immediate family to reside elsewhere was Salvatore, Rosetta and Angelo's elder brother. And Salvatore lived outside by choice, not necessity. His father had never adjusted to Salvatore's decision to become a painter and only do detective work when it suited him. His move out had done much to reduce family tensions.     Rosetta came into the office with a flourish.     "Half-switches," she announced. She Stepped back on one foot and forward on the other, then returned them to their original positions, forward foot first. Then she did the same thing but with the opposite feet. "Half-switches!"     Gina looked up from her screen and smiled.     "Do you want to see a replay?" Rosetta asked. Line dancing now loomed large in Rosetta's life. She was sure that learning complex step sequences was making her normal movements more confident. And dancing meant she knew things that other family members didn't. And, no small thing, it had provided her with a new boyfriend. Christopher had not yet met the rest of the Lunghis. He worked many unsocial hours--nights and weekends--but his schedule was flexible enough to allow an increasing number of nights with Rosetta. Including Wednesday, when they went line dancing.     "Show me," Gina said.     Rosetta executed right and left half-switches again. "Ready for lunch?" The two women locked up the office and made their way through the corridors to the kitchen.     Mama and the Old Man lived in a separate flat upstairs. All the other Lunghis had rooms in what was technically Gina and Angelo's flat, a warren that stretched over three floors and across two buildings. Even Salvatore still had a room, although he never used it. Most of his space was used for storage and the bed for occasional guests.     Gina got things out of the fridge. Rosetta assembled plates and utensils to make sandwiches with. But as Gina put bread on the bread board, she stopped and looked at her sister-in-law.     "What?" Rosetta asked.     "You look happy."     "Do I?" But it wasn't a real question, and Rosetta's tone of voice served as its own answer. She was happy. Happier than she had been for ages.     "How is Christopher?"     Rosetta expected this question and had planned to answer it coolly. Fine, fine, she would say, how's Angelo? But although Rosetta said, "Fine; oh, fine," she heard the excitement in her voice. Rosetta stifled a giggle--that would be too much, just too childish. But then she blushed. Oh no. She felt it happening and saw that Gina saw it happening.     Rosetta tried to think of a way to escape her cardiovascular system. But was it better to ask about work and whether Angelo was out, or to say she was hungry and eager to eat? What Rosetta did say was, "Is Angelo lunch? Oh!" Angelo sat in an armless, hard-backed chair. Beside him a woman in her early forties examined herself in a full-length mirror. The woman looked at her image this way and then that. Angelo felt much too close to the mirror, but reluctantly he concluded that to move the chair elsewhere would be noticed and embarrassing.     He uncrossed and recrossed his legs and followed the woman's self-examination from the edge of his field of vision. The woman was certainly watchable--attractive, glamorous even. Were those the same things? No, he supposed not. But she was not ordinary looking. And she was putting a lot of care into the choice she was making.     Angelo did not know how one was meant to describe the garment the woman had tried on. It was a dress of course, but although he knew there were words to differentiate types of dresses, he didn't know what they were. It was like Laplanders, who supposedly had dozens of words for different kinds of snow. If you were interested enough in something, you could see differences other people couldn't.     Probably there were situations in which it would be good if he were able to report to a client, "And the subject tried on a cerise, staggalee dress with a silly-midoff collar and a dibber hem." Or whatever. But Angelo didn't know the language of dresses, and so there it was. He was not even sure what color cerise was. All he did know about the dress the woman was trying on was that it was expensive.     "I'm not sure, Celia," the woman said.     Celia Corman, who owned the small dress shop, said, "I know the color isn't one you usually consider, but it works. And it certainly shows off your figure without making it, you know ..."     "Too in-your-face?" The woman looked at the mirror yet again. "Nah, Erik's not that short." The woman changed her pose. "But I see what you mean."     Angelo glanced at the woman and her figure, just for an instant, then dropped his eyes to his watch.     But the woman had caught him. "What do you think?" she said. She took a stance before him.     "What do I think?"     "You make it sound as if your wife never asks you that question, poor darling. Doesn't she care?" The woman looked to the mirror. "Honest opinion."     "Well. Well, is it meant for a formal occasion?"     "To the extent an event with Princess Anne can ever truly be called formal."     "And are you there on your own behalf or are you there for someone else?"     The woman tilted her head and looked at Angelo, seeing him for the first time. "For my daughter."     "In the dress you have on, you are striking, stunning even. But is it your objective to stun or to support?"     "What an interesting and apposite question."     "Because how something looks is as much a matter of context as a matter of fabric and cut," Angelo said.     The woman studied herself in the mirror. This time the expression on her face was critical. "I'm going to try the other one again, Celia." The woman drew her lips together as if she'd pulled a drawstring inside them. She made her way to the changing rooms in the back of the shop, swinging her hips extravagantly.     Angelo rose and moved close enough to Celia Corman to whisper, "I'm sorry if I did something wrong."     "Not at all, Mr. Lunghi. The other dress is the better one. You said exactly the right thing."     "That's a relief," Angelo said, not that he could remember exactly what he had said. He looked at his watch.     Celia Corman said, "They should be here any minute. They arrived at one on Friday, and on Saturday, and again yesterday. And the last thing I need with Christmas coming is--"     A short woman of about thirty said, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but is there a second changing room I can use?" This woman held two dresses on hangers.     Celia Corman spun on the spot. "Of course. I'll show you." She walked past the woman, pausing only to touch one of the dresses. "I love the feel of those. I have one myself, but in blue. And I can't tell you how sensual it feels next to my skin."     Angelo swallowed. He sat down. He looked at his watch. As he did, four women entered the shop. They were of assorted sizes, shapes, and hair colors. But all were young and they all had dirty faces. And they all wore what Angelo would describe as rags, unless there was some fashion term that he didn't know about for dirty clothes with holes. But even if there was, he doubted that there was a special fashion word for the mucus that hung from the noses of two of the young women. The Old Man made his way slowly up the stairs. Fine, fine, fine, he thought, if you like that kind of thing. But so small at the front, compared to so big at the back. And what use could you make of upstairs?     The Old Man knew about buildings, about shops, if anybody cared to ask him. Maybe he didn't know so much nowadays about rentals, but look at the buys he'd made in his time. And those were rented first, and nobody was complaining. But fine. It was not for him to interfere. Interference was for Mama. An international-class interferer. Her only problem was which country to represent. England or Italy, which to interfere for.     The Old Man smiled to himself. She wouldn't like what he said about interfering. But it was her speciality, no question, like lasagna for others. Ask Salvatore. Ask Rosetta. You want interference, go to Mama. That she should market. That she should open a business in.     As he reached the landing, the Old Man heard voices in the kitchen. He pushed through the door.     Gina and Rosetta both turned and smiled and said, "Hello, Papa."     Smiling faces. Friendly greeting, how it ought to be. Good girls, these. "I'm not interfering, I hope."     "I was just making us a fresh pot of tea, Papa," Gina said. "Sit down."     Rosetta pulled out a chair and the Old Man sat. He looked at his watch. "Quarter to two. You have time?"     "Of course," Gina said.     "It's not busy in the office?" the Old Man asked. "Business is bad?"     "Things are quiet, but not noiseless, Papa," Gina said. "And we got a new case this morning."     "What is it?" the Old Man said. "A husband doubts his wife? Maybe she's acting funny?" He smiled to himself.     "It's not that kind of case, Papa," Rosetta said.     The Old Man turned to Rosetta. A dim memory flickered. Didn't Rosetta used to have a husband? Not her own, someone else's. Yes, she brought a man to dinners. A married man with a wife. "So, what kind of case? A wife who doubts her husband?"     "It's extortion," Rosetta said brightly.     "We don't know exactly what it's about yet," Gina said. "Angelo's there now."     "Extortion?" The Old Man shook his head. "Extortions, if the extortee pays out too much, then he can run out of money to pay the bills."     "Papa, are you and Mama coming to dinner tonight?" Gina asked.     "To dinner? Of course we come to dinner. It's Tuesday."     "Good. Then Angelo can tell us all about the case while we eat." When Angelo came back to the office in the middle of the afternoon, he was eager to tell Gina about the "extortion" case. But no sooner had they settled with cups of tea than the office doorbell rang. "You expecting somebody?" Angelo asked.     "No," Gina said.     The bulk of the agency's work was for lawyers and arranged by telephone, so new clients almost never came in off the street. The family had once discussed removing the plaque by the door that read Lunghi Detective Agency, first floor to prevent nuisance callers. But the deciding factor was that the others thought it would upset Papa to take it down. Mama confirmed the sentiment later to Gina. "It's his history."     The bell rang again. Angelo rose and went to the new intercom. "Which button?" he asked Gina. But he didn't wait for an answer. He pushed a button and said, "Lunghi Detective Agency."     "I can read that for myself," a female voice said. "Just open the damn door, will you?"     Angelo glanced at Gina. She shrugged. Angelo pushed the button that released the lock at street level. Then he went to the landing outside the office to see who came in. To his astonishment it was the glamorous woman from the dress shop. Sitting in front of her computer, Rosetta hummed "Money to Burn." The dance that went with the song was Smokin' Cowboy, and the most difficult thing about it were the steps Christopher called half-switches. And the fact that the dance's step sequence was unusually long. Nevertheless, she'd just about mastered it. Christopher was wonderfully patient, although the dances came easily to him. Patience was just one of his many virtues.     Rosetta got up from her seat and moved to the space before her desk. From the office down the hall she heard voices, including one she didn't recognize. For a moment Rosetta considered going to see what the woman was talking to Gina and Angelo about.     But instead she began to hum again. She touched her right heel on the floor, crossed it in front of her left calf, and touched it again on the floor, this time on the other side of her left foot. Practice makes perfect. Lots of little repetitions add up to a big dance. Christopher said so, so lots of little repetitions there would be. "I'm being threatened," the woman said.     "Biscuit?" Angelo said.     The woman ignored him. "And I wasn't sure what to do about it until today in Celia's shop."     "Celia?" Gina asked.     "Celia Corman," Angelo said. "Owns the dress shop I went to this morning."     "Your husband helped me choose a dress for my daughter's big day, Mrs. Lunghi."     "He did?"     "All part of the service," Angelo said.     "I could see there was something about you, Mr. Lunghi," the woman said. "I took Celia aside and asked who you were, and when she said you're a private detective, it was as if you'd been heaven-sent. I don't have to look for trouble myself because you can do it for me, if you will. So here I am. And I hope you are a real `Angel-o,' because I don't mind telling you, I'm scared shitless."     "Shitless how, exactly, Mrs....?" Angelo asked.     "I'm Esta Dumphy. Mrs. Esta Dumphy, but please call me Esta and don't call me Dumphy because what I hear is `dumpy,' and I loathe being called that."     "And where do you live, Esta?" Gina asked.     "Blind Lane. Do you know it? North of Weston Park and halfway to nowhere."     "That's the RUH area, isn't it?" Angelo said.     "Your ability to make connections continues to impress me. You're a lucky woman, Mrs. Lunghi."     "So is your husband a doctor?" Gina asked.     "Erik is a shrink, based at the Royal United. Which makes Blind Lane jolly convenient for him, however robust a pain in the gluteus maximus it is for me."     "Do you work?"     "Not beyond entertaining and being charming."     "And going with your daughter to formal events where Princess Anne is," Angelo said.     "Indeed. That's quite a memory you have there. Susan is receiving a prize which will be presented by the Princess Royal next week. She has a real brain, has my little girl. Just as well."     "Esta," Gina said, "how exactly are you being threatened?"     "With this." From her belt Esta unhooked a small, gray box.     "What's that?" Angelo asked.     "My pager."